Monday, 13 September 2010

Bocking, Essex

St Mary the Virgin is magnificent, and huge and locked. When I arrived there was a mother and toddler group in session and my courage to look round the inside of the church whilst this was ongoing failed me. This was a mistake since when I returned on my way home, having assumed that the mother and toddler group indicated an open church, it was locked. This is a shame since Mee indicates that there are some fine ornaments within.

It dates mainly from the 15th and 16th centuries but was heavily restored in the 19th and is built of flint rubble with limestone dressings. Carvings on the nave roof include the knot of the Bourchier family, the mullet of the de Veres and the leopard head of the Flitch family, apparently. There three brasses, two from the 17th century and one from the 15th. If the exterior accurately reflects the interior, I really regret not having the balls to gate crash the mothers with their toddlers weekly get together, after all the worst that could have happened is that they asked me to leave! Hey Ho I suppose, as my boys would say, I need to grow a pair.

Mee has a lot to say about Bocking but it should be noted that the Courtaulds factory has long since departed:

BOCKING. It has kept much of its ancient beauty and has not sold its soul to industry, but it shares with its neighbour Braintree the prosperity of the great industry in rayon. Here has been developed one of the great ideas of our time, artificial silk, and the fine factory is side by side with the church, old and new together. Bocking was a village when Samuel Courtauld began his work at the beginning of last century; little did he dream that the end of it would be, a hundred years later, the wizardry of transmuting trees into trousseaus.

The Courtaulds were Huguenot refugees driven from France to England in the 17th century. They produced, a hundred years after that, an industrious idealist who was successively silk-weaver, paper-maker, and miller in Kent and Essex, then going to America to die in the attempt to found a perfect community. It was his son Samuel who started his silk factory here. Samuel's brother George returned from America to join the little firm, which linked the manufacture of crepe to the silk business, reached almost worldwide fame, and built up the nucleus of the financial resources from which immense developments were to spring. Courtauld succeeded Courtauld.

Synthetic chemists had long dreamed of copying the silkworm whose caterpillar, eating mulberry leaves, transforms the result into a gummy fluid which, on entering the air by way of its spinnerets, instantly becomes silk. The first man to rival the silkworm was actually Sir Joseph Swan, who patented a process for the con­version of cotton into a sort of artificial silk to serve as the filament of his electric lamp, in the invention of which he beat the famous Edison; and a Frenchman took up the idea and established fac­tories for the production of synthetic yarn by treating cellulose with acid. There were other efforts towards the same end, but the master process was found in that evolved, after 12 years of research, by two English chemists who sold the rights to Courtaulds. Today the rayon process marches with the accuracy and precision of a familiar experiment in a chemist's laboratory. They order their materials, treat them according to formula, and produce silks and fabrics with unerring accuracy. In a Canadian forest in any year of peace are certain spruce trees, 35 years old, which a year hence will be issuing from this factory ready to dress a bride from head to foot and to play a part in furnishing her home.

Such is the wonderful idea which has changed this place from an old-world village to a modern town. It has still a host of old houses, with overhanging gables everywhere. Standing out among them are the three gables of the old Woolpack Inn, built in Elizabethan times with rich beams carved with grotesques and foliage. Close by is Wentworth House, with a 17th century canopy finely carved over the doorway; and on the front of one of the inns there is a carving of a man with a wreath of fruit on his head. At Church End is Doreward's Hall, its splendid Tudor wing impressive with chequered buttresses and magnificent windows. There are farms and cottages that have been here 300 years and more. There is an old post windmill with sails 60 feet long, preserved for ever in a playground for the children; and there is the Deanery, with its 17th century gable and chimneys, so-called because the parson here has the title of dean, the living being what is called a Peculiar, under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Beside the Deanery is an old barn and a dovecot with 135 nests of lath and plaster, the dovecot interesting because it was built during the residence here of John Gauden, the bishop who imposed a forgery on the world. He created intense interest in a book which was attributed to Charles Stuart - the Eikon Basilike, which pretended to be an account written by the king of his long sufferings, but was actually written by Bishop Gauden. It is believed that a copy was bought the day after the execution, and the volume ran through about 50 editions, calling forth a reply in Milton's Iconoclastes. Gauden, a Bury St Edmunds schoolboy, left a charity to Bocking in memory of his years at the Deanery.

The church, a magnificent 15th century structure, is dwarfed by the factory, which almost touches the Tudor wall round the church­yard; the iron gates on the south side are a peace memorial. The tower is splendid, with pinnacles and double buttresses, niches with carved heads, and rich stone panelling round the base. The fine embattled porch shelters a door covered with ironwork of great beauty, the craftsmanship of a clever smith 700 years ago. The interior is worthy of the impressive exterior, having a remarkable set of old roofs, those of the nave and aisles being 16th century and those in the chancel and the chapels a little older. The bosses show leaves and shields and other carvings. The south chapel has a window with beautiful 14th century tracery, and the net pattern of that period is also seen in the east window, where each space has an angel in modern glass. The lights below are resplendent with portraits of saints and martyrs, among them St Augustine, balanced with a splendid figure of Charles Stuart. Another beautiful window is the gift of two American citizens, Francis and James Goodwin, whose ancestors lived in Booking. The window shows the Annuncia­tion, the Nativity, and the Epiphany, with Bertha, Ethelburga, and other English saints in panels above and below. There are two 17th century chairs elaborately carved, a handsome modern screen, and a Tudor funeral helmet; and on a window shelf when we called was a clock-hand, saying: "From 1731 to 1859 from Bocking tower I told the hour." It had been turning for more than a million hours when it was taken down.

Peeping from under the organ are John Doreward (in the armour worn at Agincourt) and his wife in a horned headdress. Another brass shows Oswald Fitch of Shakespeare's time in his long cloak and ruff, and there is a monument of 1624 with a beautiful figure of Grisell Moore kneeling between fine columns.

Most of the church as we see it would be familiar to the three courageous Bocking people who perished for their faith in the cruel reign of Mary Tudor: Catherine Hut and Richard Spurge, murdered in the name of God at Smithfield in 1556, and William Purcas, who was burned at Colchester in 1557.

Flickr set.

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